“Voila”, said Ferdinand. “My artwork is complete. I have now turned an empty shell into a piece of solid gold. I am the first successful alchemist. Soon, the world will realise the grandness of this act and I’ll be famous and rich alike.” A dark “muhahaha” would have been at place were it not that Ferdinand had absolutely no evil intentions.
Granted, Ferdinand had done something very unusual. It had cost him years of his life. In the process, he had lost two wives to more successful businessmen, he had lost his reputation, he had accidentally turned the mayor’s wife -whom he had had a failed affair with- into an ostrich. Yet he had accomplished a goal that had been waiting for fulfilment during generations and generations.
Trying to make gold was a family thing. Ferdinand’s grandmother Isabella had been known for evaporating the lake, while his uncle Jacob had accidentally popped several frog populations. Frogs of the highly appreciated kind, particularly by an influential environmentalist who’d been working on their restoration ever after Isabella’s fatal mistake. In short, the Fibuna family was not generally appreciated in their village of origin.
But Ferdinand was different. In his youth, he had done the best he could to restore the family honour. He had publicly abandoned his heir’s rights, chosen a career in the fishers’ branch and he had actively participated in the village life. Later, he became one of the essential motivators for the turn towards the green side. He was widely appreciated for his brightness and his wit. In his early thirties, some of the village elders saw him as the obvious first choice in the candidacy of the new mayor. He was elected with an unprecedented majority of votes.
The, at the dawn of his governmental career, Ferdinand had realised that he had merely lived to please. The revelation functioned as a breach in a dam, and to all villagers’ disappointment, he rapidly switched to a more solemn and lonely lifestyle. Demonstrations came and passed as tiny riots on his garden path, but Ferdinand chose to dedicate his life the way his ancestors did: trying to make gold.
You can imagine his trouble starting up. Due to his renunciating attitude in the past, his ancestors had taken their secrets into their graves. Ferdinand had to delve into the distant memories of his early, colourless childhood to connect pieces he could make a little sense of. He had forced himself to work day and night to catch up with what was lost. But he’d taken the quest and now, in his late sixties, he’d finally created gold. The only question was: is this process replicable?
So it happened to Ferdinand, as it does to every other craftsman, that he had to reinitiate this final experiment to test it’s reliability. It was a lengthy and troublesome process which, I suppose, few others than alchemists are interested in. What’s important is that it took Ferdinand a few trials to obtain gold again, and several hundreds till he had the whole process under control. By then he was ninety one.
Alchemist or not, a man of ninety one sees his end near and though Ferdinand had been the lonely type for the past sixty years, he decided to write an ad. “Dear villagers”, it said, “I have learned how to make gold out of a shell. As I don’t have children, I’d like to teach my nearest ones how it is done. Even if we haven’t spoken for a long time, my nearest ones are you. I will give a demonstration on Friday the 27th at 6 pm on the main square. Bring a chair”. It was signed “Ferdinand the Alchemist of Comnoville”.
Many things had changed during his years of retraction. Villagers had grown hooked to the world wide web, and many had turned schizophrenic after operation Android. Operation Android was a village wide social experiment where information waves were tuned into brainwaves so as to create a more collective state of mind, to make the village more harmonious and uniform. Ferdinand had actively shielded his home from these waves because they’d distract him from his work. After deportation of the maddened, the village had become emptier and it had quickly turned into an entirely self sustainable place. This had attracted souls of the happy kind, who, as they had not been part of the growth of collectiveness, had rapidly changed the atmosphere into a chaotic but lively whole. The demands of the happy people were high, and the village soon had to start importing again, decreasing the external interest and turning Comnoville back into an ordinary place. In the years that followed, people gradually left to more interesting spots, leaving the place emptier, feelingwise, than it had ever been. That had benefitted Ferdinand. While the happy people had continuously attempted to contact him to brainstorm about his great quest, the emptiness had provided him the space of thought he needed to finally complete it.
On Friday the 27th at 6 pm, Ferdinand was the only figure to be seen on the main square of Comnoville. He had brought his laboratory desk and his complete experimental setup was installed and ready for use. Quarter past six, still no one. Had he done something wrong? “Why isn’t anyone here? Don’t they believe me? Do they see reasons for an old man to lie about his ability to alchemize a shell into a solid brick of gold?”
It took at least half an hour more before an adolescent boy crossed the square. He smiled at the old man. “Hi”. He said. “Hello, young man.” Said Ferdinand. “Where are you going?” “Well I was actually going to see my friend on the other side. But aren’t you the guy who makes gold out of apples?”. “Shells in fact, but yes. That’s me. So you do believe me?”. “Of course I believe you, man!” “Everyone does. Why would you make up something like that?” “To attract attention maybe? Gold’s quite valuable…” “You’re wrong man. They have found a massive golden comet and steerded it in orbit around the earth. Then they delved it. Happened years ago. The amount of gold on earth has grown so massively that it is worth almost nothing now. There are golden cities out there. Gold is the new plumb. Worthless weight.” Ferdinand had no reply “If you want to become famous, learn how to make Bzook. They found some of it at the core of the comet. That’s totally hot these days.”
Ferdinand stood there, astonished. “I admire your trick, man” said the boy “but you should have come up with it ten years ago. It’s old fashioned.” He suddenly realised what this bright yellow star had been. Though he long interpreted it’s golden glow as a sign that he’d fulfil his task, it now became his doom. Here he stood; old and empty-handed, with an almost unlimited access to gold. It was at this point that he decided he’d spent long enough isolating himself. He was going to travel the world.
Because of his daily walks through the mountains of Comnoville, Ferdinand was quite fit for his age. but he had to admit that over time he’d lost some of his once admirable interpersonal skills. And as he’d always lived of his garden expecting to use his gold after retirement, he had no money to pay. Yet he was a respectable old man and he would regularly meet a hospitable person who’d let him sleep in a house. Despite of his peculiarities, Ferdinand quickly found himself as open and as young of mind as he used to be. People knew his village due to its unique history, and they would falsely justify his strangeness by his origin. His cards had been played. He’d self taught the art of making gold in times where the market asked for Bzook. He had to give it to them: Bzook, in all it’s deep colourful shininess had something special. Mystical he’d call it. But Ferdinand Fibuna was free at last.
Like all tourists, he went to see one of the golden cities: Cueheran. It’s one of the most impressive ones because it was built to sustain an enormous Oasis in the Matahari Desert. You’d have to go there by plane or hovercraft, or if you’re of the poor kind, on a Camel. Ferdinand managed to get a ride by a group of market men in exchange for some stories about his village. He had to make them up, because he’d missed most of the actual events, but that did not matter: Comnoville spoke to the imagination.
The mountain of Cueharan could be seen five days before arrival. The irony… If it wasn’t for cities like this one, Ferdinand would be rich and famous now. Yet if he’d ask himself the question sincerely, he’d have to admit he did not want any of that. He was fine like this, approaching what his ancestors had always been longing for: limitless amounts of gold.
The city was impressive. Buildings made of massive gold! Golden stairways, golden towers, golden bells, most people even wore golden clothes. Ferdinand felt quite at home at his golden hotel. When he closed his eyes in his golden bed, he got a call from Isabella.
“Go make Bzook, little Ferdi” she advised him, but Ferdi was so happy to meet her after all these years, that he decided not to go back at all.